Isabel Vincent’s groundbreaking exploration brings to light a dark chapter in our recent history: the white slave trade and the international Jewish mobsters behind it.
From the end of the 1860s until the beginning of the Second World War, thousands of young, impoverished Jewish women, most of them from the hard-scrabble shtetls of Eastern Europe, were sold into slavery by a notorious gang of mobsters called the Zwi Migdal. While the enterprise controlled brothels in various locales, its main centres of operation were Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and, to a lesser extent, New York City.
To recruit vulnerable country girls, pimps would target villages of desperate poverty, where they posed as respectable suitors of considerable means who had made their money abroad. They would arrange sham marriages to their victims and promise them an easy life in the New World. But once they’d crossed the ocean, these Jewish women found themselves caught up in the white slave trade.
Under frequently brutal conditions, the young women had to service the needs of a booming population of immigrant men. An added hardship to endure was being vehemently shunned by the “respectable” Jewish community. Banned from synagogue and reviled by their neighbors, the women were forbidden from partaking in the sacred Jewish burial ritual. So prostitutes banded together to form the Society of Truth, with the promise to do all could they could to help each other be buried in dignity. Through the society the women observed religious life together, setting up private synagogues and kosher kitchens. Cast aside by their community, they created their own: a society of love, honour to God and faith in each other.
With the determination and skill of her training as an investigative journalist, Isabel Vincent tells an unforgettable and gripping tale of a shameful chapter in recent history.
One of the saddest and most shameful stories in Jewish history has been suppressed for generations: between 1860 and 1939, thousands of poor young women from Eastern European shtetls were sold into sexual slavery by the Jewish-run Zwi Migdal crime syndicate, which controlled brothels on several continents. Focusing on three women, Vincent reconstructs the miserable lives of many of these women. One, sent to New York, saw 273 men in a two-week period. Many, unable to find support in the Jewish community which ostracized them committed suicide. And one, Sally Knopf, whose own uncle was a trafficker, escaped by disguising herself as a man. There is some triumph here: the Jewish prostitutes of Rio de Janeiro purchased their own cemetery in 1916 and ran their own burial society. By the time they bought their own synagogue in 1942, they had seen the demise of the Zwi Migdal gang. Unanswered questions, many raised by Vincent herself, abound. Clearly, poverty and lack of opportunity in Europe drove women into the trade, but why did they stay? Canadian journalist Vincent (Hitler's Silent Partners: Swiss Banks, Nazi Gold and the Pursuit of Justice) demonstrates her strength as a writer and storyteller, which enables her to at least partially retrieve this all-but-lost world.